It may be their sophomore release, but Standard Fare haven’t gone all grown up on us. In fact, their second album is more hormone-drenched than their first.
Some 18 months after The Noyelle Beat was released, they’ve farmed off the best bits of their debut and binned its more self conscious moments. They’ve eschewed the fillers, instead lumping for 12 pop nuggets that clock in at 30 minutes in total.
With bursts of britpop guitars with a C86 jangle, they feel like natural successors to The Wedding Present or even The Housemartins. Their short, sharp bursts of youthful energy last a maximum of three minutes, but they manage to pack one teen drama after another into them; from breakups to nuclear war paranoia, and crushes to general horniness, they might be well into their 20s, but they’re not ashamed to wear their hearts on their sleeves.
Singer Emma Kupa is still at the helm, and it’s her distinctive voice, singing through almost gritted teeth, that again makes the album. It’s not cute, nor fierce or fragile. It quavers, breaking at times. It’s tomboyish but has glimmers of vulnerability, which suits their juxtaposed, happy-go-lucky songs down to a tee. Take Darth Vader, the tear-jerker of the album, about separating from someone you love. It’s one of the most serious songs on the record. Its opening line? “I’m not Darth Vader, Luke I’m not your father…” Or single Suitcase, about preparing for nuclear war by creating a tin can-filled bunker: “My only fear is how I’m going to save my family…” sung over the album’s most upbeat track, with skiffle-guitars strummed at 100 miles per hour.
Kupa doesn’t steal all the limelight though; guitarist Danny How, a great vocalist in his own right, steps up for a few songs. The best of these is Kicking Puddles, which switches gear for a more lo-fi sound. His smiley vocal is firmly in the Darren Hayman school of indie vocalists; angst-ridden and pleading yet endearing and upbeat. But it’s during his vocal duels with Kupa – including the ’80s pop nugget Dead Future, which sees the pair share an infectious chorus (“I’m gonna bite, bite bite bite my tongue…”) – that it really comes to life.
Elsewhere, they’ve got sex on the brain. From the early Ash style shuffling guitars and indecent proposal of Call Me Up, to the light-headed first throws in lust of 051107, a fuzzy, rolling track that sees Kupa almost pout her through: “I don’t know where we’re going, but it feels good,” before going on to describe such romantic liaisons as kissing in alleyways and skipping train fares.
Bad Temper is textbook Standard Fare; a rush of guitar that recalls ’90s post-britpop band Midget. Older Women is their biggest production, with a more polished sound. Some of their sketchy, DIY charm is scrubbed away, but Kupa’s tongue-in-cheek smirk, as she enjoys her Mrs Robinson moment, wins back some ground.
And that’s it – over in not much more than the blink of an eye. But what a satisfying blink. Their relentless cheer might wear thin for some, but Standard Fare have returned with 12 songs that fans will devour. A late contender for indiepop album of the year.